Law enforcement, residents concerned about illegal races occurring in Port Richmond
By Lindsey Nolen
As voiced at the Wednesday, June 7 Port Richmond On Patrol And Civic meeting, an increasing concern among River Ward residents is local drag racing. While it remains difficult for law enforcement to put an end to these races for good, 24th District Police Capt. Daniel O’Connor said the Philadelphia Police Department is working hard to diminish their occurrence and to penalize those caught participating in the speeding sessions.
“It’s hard to say that the people out there drag racing are kids, because they’re ages typically range from 16 to 40 years old,” O’Connor said. “It all stems from a street culture that they like to follow and that they subscribe to. If you go on the internet and search ‘drag racing in Philly,’ you’ll see we’re just one of several locations in the region that people congregate in [for drag racing.]”
He continued that, whether it be for fun or for the money accumulated when illegally gambling on these races, there are several locations throughout the city that have become central hubs. Although the races are not limited to occurring in the 24th District, O’Connor said the most common locations for the act include the shopping center parking lots along E. Butler Street and Aramingo Avenue. Furthermore, races have been reported to start in The Home Depot parking lot off Castor Avenue, as well as spots along Delaware Avenue, Lewis Avenue and Wheatsheaf Lane.
“The drag racers are known to overtake the shopping center parking lots,” O’Connor stressed. “It’s not just us that experiences them though, they’re also seen a lot on other parts of Delaware Avenue and on Beach Street over in Fishtown.”
Confirming the presence of drag racing in these parking lots, Angela Simes, a resident of the intersection of Miller and Venango streets, said she has seen them occur mostly from Aramingo Avenue and Castor Street until past the Lowes parking lot. She added that when the racers are not in action, they gather in the parking lots of the Lowes, ShopRite and Speedy Gas Station. Additionally, she has observed the street races taking place mostly on the weekends, especially when it’s warm outside in the spring and summer.
“I witness it every weekend during these times. I’m sure it happens in the winter, but I don’t sit out or have my windows open then,” Simes, who has lived in her home for seven years, but has been in Port Richmond all of her life, said. “My concern is that [the drag racers] will cause an accident and cause someone to needlessly lose their life.”
As a result of these sightings and reports, O’Connor said the police department has done a number of things. First, it has developed a drag race initiative where an organized task force focuses on bringing all affected district officers together to combat these actions. Together, they work on disrupting the races and issuing traffic citations not only to the racers themselves, but to those observing as well.
“Under the Motor Vehicle Code, it is a violation of state law to be a bystander watching these [races],” O’Connor said. “Included in our efforts, we’ve also live stopped cars, and have found that some of these are not properly registered or that the driver has a suspended license.”
Further, he and his department are working with local business partners, especially members of the Aramingo Business Association, to station officers in their parking lots to look out for the street racers. They have also been working with the Philadelphia Streets Department to have speed cushions, also known as “rumble strips,” installed on the roads by the Streets Department which are most affected by drag racing to interrupt the smooth surfaces ideal for racing. So far, this has included the implementation of cushions on sections of Delaware Avenue.
State Rep. John Taylor confirmed this and explained that the rumble strips are placed in areas where the need to lessen the speed of vehicles is felt. He believes that this initiative has since helped to slow down traffic, as well as stop drag racing at these specific spots. However, he notes that drag racing, and the noise and disruption that goes along with it, is still rampant along other parts of Castor Avenue and the adjacent parking lots, including the Home Depot parking lot.
Taking action, Taylor sent a letter to Home Depot USA on Friday, June 23 explaining the current situation and requesting its help in dealing with the matter in an “expeditious fashion.” He also stressed to the home improvement supplies retailing company that, besides the disturbances, the drag races and congregation of the large crowds of people in the subject property causes disturbances to the quality of life of local residents and serves as a danger to participants and pedestrians alike.
“Last year it was the Lowe’s lot and the Sonic lot,” Taylor said. “Neighbors are frustrated with the current situation since they have to deal with this chaos every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night.”
He continued that the state needs to continue coordinating a police presence to bring order to these areas. Taylor explained that the 24th District cannot do it alone and that the he is working with the business owners to develop a solution and to discourage participation in the races.
“If racers are caught and issued a citation, a court appearance is required,” O’Connor said. “The fines are much steeper [if charged for street racing] than if found guilty of running a stop sign or red light. Another penalty is that points are then assessed. Worst case, besides the vehicle being impounded, the judge in municipal court who oversees traffic violations can also suspend the driver’s license for a period of time.”
O’Connor says if residents witness street racing, they should immediately call 911. Officers will respond to the report as soon as possible.
“It’s going to take more than just the enforcement aspect,” O’Connor said. “We hope that through working with the Streets Department, and with the mayor’s Vision Zero program, that we can change the physical environment that allows for street racing, and the views of people participating.”